Demps the Obvious Choice to Return Kicks

Jeff Demps

Jeff Demps sometimes runs past his teammates without them even noticing. They look around to see what passed them, but players admit it's hard to recognize him at full speed. With the graduation of Brandon James, Demps was an obvious selection to take over kickoff returning duties. His straight-line speed allows Demps to simplify what he does after catching the ball.

Follow the lead blocker and hit the hole.

The coaches have tried to make it that easy. His sprinter speed makes it a waste to think of anything else. If Jeff Demps gets a step on a member of the kickoff coverage unit, it could be time to strike up the band.

"Catching kickoffs is not real difficult," Florida head coach Urban Meyer said. "You go as fast as you can and follow the lead blocker."

If only it really were that easy. James left Gainesville holding 11 school record for kickoff and punt returns. He also possesses four SEC records, including most career kickoff returns (112), career kickoff return yardage (2,718), single-season kickoff average per return (28.0, 2007) and most total kickoff return yardage in a career (4,089).

As multiple All-SEC and All-American honors head with him to likely become the kickoff and punt returner for the Indianapolis Colts, Demps will do his best to help Florida's kickoff return unit remain as one of the toughest in the country to stop.

"I know I have some big shoes to fill," Demps said. "Brandon James was a great special teams player. I was the backup to him last year, so I learned a few things, like hitting the hole and don't dance around with it. I think I did a good job this offseason of preparing for it."

Demps approached coach Meyer about returning kicks during 2008 when he was a freshman. James was already entrenched as the starter at the position, but Demps wanted to work in practice and serve as the backup kick returner.

The touches would be limited because of how effective James was, but Demps knew a day was coming where James wouldn't be able to do it anymore.

"I watched him and he was very explosive," Demps said. "He never tiptoed through the hole. He was always a hard-nosed player, and I really learned a lot from him."

James displayed a toughness, combined with his 5-6, 180-pound frame, that surprised his opposition. He wasn't afraid to lay a big block or take a hit in traffic if it meant the potential of breaking off a long run.

"You've got to be tough," Demps said. "You've got guys screaming down to take your head off. I'm not worried. I trust all ten of my guys to get the job done."

Florida has toyed with using Trey Burton and Mike Gillislee to line up with Demps and serve as his lead blocker. The trust between Demps and whoever wins the job will be important.

"A great returner is someone who trusts their kickoff return team," Demps said. "Whenever you see the seam or the crease, just hit it."

There is a category that Demps already has James in. He has a distinct speed advantage, something he possesses over all of his Florida teammates.

"I don't think you can really see Demps run past you," Florida offensive lineman Carl Johnson said. "You just see a blur and colors."

Demps is well aware of his own speed. It's exactly why he isn't worried about the production at kick returner. One Florida great left, but Demps is ready to take on the challenge.

"If I get through a seam, it'll be a pretty good day for the Gators," Demps said with a grin.
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